Iraqis learn to live with abductions

While the world focuses on high-profile kidnappings, Iraqis face the daily threat of abductions for ransom.

    Hundreds of Iraqis are kidnapped by criminal gangs

    Most kidnappings in Iraq involve ransoms between $500 and half a million dollars, depending on the rank of the kidnapper and the victim.

    The most popular targets are teenagers from affluent or influential families.

    Marwan al-Hilli, 18, and a resident of Baghdad, was parking his car near his flat in the Salihiya district when two armed men aimed their guns at his head and told him he was being kidnapped.

    He was held in a run-down house in east Baghdad and told his mother had looted a bank during the April 2003 lawlessness following the fall of Baghdad and could afford to pay for his release.

    He tried to explain that his mother had died in 2001 but his kidnappers persisted, citing a neighbourhood source.

    His sister, Fidaa, acted as negotiator and agreed to a $10,000 ransom.

    Fidaa al-Hilli, 30, told "Those monsters beat my brother so fiercely he suffered from it for months.

    "He would scream as they tortured him while they spoke with me on the phone so I would accept their terms."

    Fidaa agreed to pay the ransom but also appealed to the Iraqi police, an uncharacteristic move in kidnapping cases.

    Family of kidnappers

    Ten days later, the kidnappers were apprehended and al-Hilli freed, but not before it was revealed that one of the gang was a police officer.

    His family pleaded with al-Hilli not to press charges fearing he would be kicked out of the force.

    Aadhamiya resident Raya Al Obaidi, 10, has a different story.

    Her kidnappers did not harm her or sexually assault her, as happens to some women.

    They asked her father for $10,000 and promised she would be well cared for until he came up with the funds.

    "They were so nice to me and I don't want any of you to say bad things about them"


    Her father was advised by the police to pay the ransom as quickly as possible to "protect the family's honour".

    He sold his wife's jewellery and borrowed from his four brothers. Several days later, Raya was returned unharmed.

    She told her family: "They were so nice to me and I don't want any of you to say bad things about them."

    She said she had been taken by a family and could pinpoint their house. Her father decided not to pursue matters with the authorities.

    While these kidnappings ended well for the victims and their families, many do not. Often the bodies of children are left in ditches or in front of their homes.


    Sociologist Maath Ahmed Hassan, head of the National Education and Social Development Organisation, believes of unemployed men sometimes form gangs to take advantage of the unstable security situation.

    With no other means of support, kidnapping offers a lucrative alternative.

    Unemployment has led some to
    chose criminal activity

    For Jawad, 26, kidnapping was the only way he could provide for his extended family.

    "I did kidnap more than one of those who collected money out of our sweat and blood, but then I quit doing it for religious reasons."

    "I stopped it now and I am a better citizen than you are," he told

    He said his victims were affluent families who made money by taking advantage of the country's instability and embezzling thousands from state coffers.

    When pressed to answer if his victims included former government officials he would only say that if their names were made public, he would no longer be viewed in a negative light.

    "They were very bad - immoral people, believe me."

    Street threats

    A police captain from the Russafa Police Directory, who would give only his first name, Ahmed, believes

    the police are not capable of dealing with the number of cases.


    We manage to release some kidnapped people every now and then, but h

    ow can we do our jobs while we are under threat in the streets?"

    He says the police are as likely to be kidnapped as civilians and blames insufficient arms, training and equipment for Iraq's security vacuum.

    Iraqi police are also likely to be
    victims of kidnapping

    A Brookings Institute report on Iraq said up to 10 kidnappings occurred every day.

    A retired Iraqi security manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, blamed US mismanagement.

    "When the son of Hassan Bunniya, the famous merchant, was kidnapped in the late 1990s, the Iraqi intelligence office succeeded to release him in less than 24 hours."

    He explained that the security forces were given civilian support before the war.

    "Now they are too afraid to provide the police with tips or help in any investigation lest they be killed themselves," he said.


    Fearing a further escalation in violence, many Iraqis leaving Iraq. They sell off what belongings they have and flee to Syria, Jordan and, most recently, Egypt.

    Jawad, who now works as a car dealer, says the chaos which allowed him to thrive as a kidnapper is too disruptive. He too is preparing to leave for Jordan.

    And the Iraqis who cannot afford to leave, they resort to prayer and patience, hoping that stability will return.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


    Cricket World Cup 2019 Quiz: How many runs can you score?

    Cricket World Cup 2019 Quiz: How many runs can you score?

    Pick your team and answer as many correct questions in three minutes.

    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states have launched more than 19,278 air raids across Yemen.

    Remembering Chernobyl

    Remembering Chernobyl

    The fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion remains as politicised as ever, 28 years on.